by Rena Gadimova
Business is getting emotional when it comes to customer experience strategies. The traditional rational consumer model has been challenged by a more intuitive consumer model. Rather than viewing customers as essentially rational in their decision-making, the role of emotion in our decision-making has received an increasing amount of attention and consideration. It is also a key component of building customer trust.
The collaboration of fields and disciplines such as marketing, psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience have opened this relatively new view of consumer behavior, essentially flipping the dominant understanding of human nature. Aristotle declared the human being to be a rational animal.
However, humans are emotional beings. So, it follows that customer behavior is emotionally driven, almost entirely. And we have the science to back it up.
Neuroscientist Anthony Damasio developed a concept that he calls a somatic marker. The way it works is that an emotional experience – positive or negative – makes a lasting impression on our mind and memory, and is stored in such a way that it becomes part of a massive network of associations. This is so that the next time a potentially similar situation arises, our brain uses past experience to make quick intuitive decisions about how to handle this new situation, to engage or avoid. This all happens very quickly, often remaining an unconscious process that may only register as what we call a gut feeling, sixth sense, or intuition. These feelings evoke emotions that inform our reasoning processes from the initial reaction to settling on a conclusion to act in one way versus another, or not at all. In his book Descartes’ Error and elsewhere, Damasio argues that emotions are an essential aspect of our ability to reason and make any decisions at all.
You probably didn’t need a neuroscientist to tell you that emotion plays an incredibly large and important part in our lives. But it doesn’t hurt to have that confirmation. This, of course, applies to consumer behavior. Positive or negative experiences with your brand will either strengthen or erode consumer perception of your brand, whether engagement with your marketing and branding efforts or buying your product, or dealing with your customer service after the sale.
Building customer trust and loyalty with a positive emotional connection
An increasingly important part of your customer’s emotional perception of your brand involves how much they feel able to trust your company. Earning and building customer trust has never been so necessary, but is also so easy to lose.
Feelings factor in every aspect of your customer’s evaluation of your brand. As described by Deloitte, “when a positive emotional connection is created with a brand, 92 percent of us are more likely to stay loyal to a brand, 88 percent are more likely to spend more, and 91 percent are willing to advocate on behalf of the brand.”
Consumer trust plummeted between 2016 and 2018, according to Gartner, with the greatest loss of trust among Millennials and multicultural consumers in the U.S.
However, challenges are also opportunities. The experience economy, consumer data, and the technological power of AI and machine learning provide the tools for seizing opportunities to delight your customers on an individualized scale.
Create more effective branding. Deliver the right offers and experiences at the right time. Delight customers by connecting on an emotional level, understanding what they expect and what they value, and doing so with transparency that builds trust and lifelong customer relationships.
Ways to build trust and emotional connection with your customers
To reach your customers where they are, with the right message, at the right time, and in a way that establishes and builds trust as well as connects with them emotionally, the presumption is that you must know your customers. Understand what they need, want, and expect.
The deep customer insights on which this understanding and empathy are built can be gained from a robust CRM platform that gathers real-time customer information from across channels into a single, unified 360-degree view of the customer. Data gathered with purpose enables strong predictive analytics to help interpret the data and deliver actionable insights for customer engagement.
Building on this foundation, you can develop strategies for adjusting your business functions, processes, and channels to better serve your consumers in the ways they need and expect you to deliver on your brand promise.
Deliver great customer experiences
Customers don’t have time or patience for anything less than a stellar customer experience. A study by Gartner shows that “Ease of use is a critical element of a positive experience. Online retailers have innovated continuously to reduce the instances of shopping cart abandonment and other blockers to completing a purchase transaction.”
Although it has been known for more than a decade, the experience gap remains a real challenge and opportunity, with about 80 percent of companies believing that they deliver phenomenal customer experiences, and about 8 percent of consumers agreeing. And in the experience economy, over 80 percent of companies expect to compete mostly or entirely on the basis of customer experience. Because doing otherwise is not a viable option.
Research by Forrester shows that consumers rate your brand based on feelings more than cold, hard facts and information. Increasingly, the key to great CX is to make it an exceptionally emotional experience across the entire customer journey. And do deliver on your brand promise, you must know and understand your customers, walking that fine line between knowing enough to create individualized experiences without being creepy and invasive.
Optimize CX with usability testing and UX research
Usability pioneers Jakob Nielsen and Donald Norman say user experience (UX) is a main brand differentiator in the digital world. They define UX as “the first requirement for exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother.”
UX and usability are different, however. Usability is “a quality attribute of the UI, covering whether the system is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant, and so forth.” User experience is a wider category, that, “In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”
Certainly, costs for testing and implementing an adequate solution can vary dramatically from company to company or even channel to channel. Although it can be a big production, conducting usability testing doesn’t have to be a major undertaking or drain on time or resources. Having participants from your target audience test a website or app can help identify the most glaring problems and frustrations keeping customers from enjoying a positive experience with your company.
Again, Gartner finds that “along with ease of use, trust is a key component of a consumer’s satisfaction with a digital experience.”
Without that initial reason to trust your company with whatever data they must exchange as part of doing business with you, consumers are much less likely to do business with you in the first place. About 20 percent of non-users cite a lack of trust as their reason for spending their money and trusting their information with someone else.
Establishing trust with consumers upfront is no longer just a way to stand out as one of the “good guys,” it is a necessity if you want to do business. Here are some steps you can take to make your company more transparent, compliant, and competitive – and this will assist with building customer trust in the process.
Demonstrate good stewardship of customer data
The deck is already stacked against you when it comes to convincing consumers to share their data with you. The Marketo blog describes research findings, and “the trouble is, 65% of consumers are uncomfortable with their personal data being shared with for-profit firms, according to the Insights Network report.”
Even if you haven’t contributed to the problem of broken trust over customer data, the challenge is one you must meet and overcome.
Consider these steps toward earning consumer trust in the age of data breaches and GDPR:
Implement the technologies and expert resources (such as data scientists) needed to properly collect, store, manage, protect, and share customer data.
Collect data consensually; don’t buy it. The shortcut may be tempting, but you’re likely not getting the data that’s going to be useful to you or your prospective customers. They will know that you bought it; you will be at least that transparent.
Be transparent about everything above. Let customers know the who, what, where, when, and how of your data collection practices.
Grant customers hassle-free access to the data you have about them. And allow a delete option.
Not only will you earn trust and goodwill with consumers, but you will also be well on your way to compliance.
Understand and reflect your customers’ values and concerns
As seen on the Marketo blog, your customer wants to be the hero, and it’s up to you to enable that in a forward and transparent way. “Empower your customers with the feeling that investing in your products or services makes them a hero. Draw a clear, straight line from their point-of-purchase to the impact they’ll have on the world.”
According to Gartner, “In a recent survey, we learned that 70% of consumers expect brands to take positions on social issues that are being debated at large, particularly if they are relevant to their business.”
Again, the assumption is that to empower customers to live their values, you first understand your customers, including what they value and why. Understanding and empathy will always be the foundation of your strategy to connect with your customers emotionally, even as you both evolve.